Children in most countries in the world are today honing their preparations for Mother's Day tomorrow. Despite the grumbling that Mother's Day, like almost every other 'day' has become over-commercialised over the years, few people opt out of the gift-giving and Mom-pampering. After all no one wants to be seen as not in favour of honouring their mothers. Those not celebrating tomorrow would be children in the UK where Mother's Day or Mothering Sunday was already celebrated in a big way in March and those in the poorest of poor or war-torn countries in the world, where getting a meal or clean water to drink takes precedence over everything else.
In this milieu, Save the Children, a US-based independent global humanitarian organization, on Tuesday released its State of the World's Mothers 2006 report to coincide with Mother's Day celebrations. Contained in the report is the organisation's annual Mothers' Index, which rates the best and worst places in the world to be a mother and a child. Not all of the countries in the world are listed as there was too little or no information at all for some of them.
As has become typical in reports that deal with development, health care or children's welfare, the countries at the bottom of the list are all in Africa. The worst, listed at number 125 is Niger, preceded by Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Yemen, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia tied at number 115. Interestingly, in the top ten, Sweden is rated the best country in the world to be a mother followed by Denmark and Finland tied at number two, Austria, Germany and Norway tied at number four, Australia and the Netherlands tied at number seven, Canada at number nine and the US and the UK tying at number ten.
According to the report, the index was compiled by combining six indicators of women's well-being with four for children, taking into consideration the direct link between the two: if mothers are healthy their children are likely to be healthy as well. The countries were measured on risk of maternal and infant mortality; the percentage of women using modern contraception; the percentage of births attended by skilled personnel; the percentage of pregnant women with anaemia; adult female literacy rate; women's participation in national government; primary school enrolment rate; the percent of the population with access to safe water, and the percentage of children under five suffering from moderate to severe malnutrition.
The report has Guyana on the halfway mark of the Mothers' Index at number 63, in a tie with Botswana, Lebanon, Lesotho, the Philippines and Tunisia. But that is not to say that the same factors influenced these countries all being at the same level.
Take for instance, Botswana. This country is known to have a very high incidence of HIV and AIDS and while this was not one of the indicators listed by Save the Children, obviously the poor health of HIV-infected mothers would have tilted the scale here.
Meanwhile in Guyana, from the frequency of such reports, it is clear that the indicators for maternal and infant mortality and the percentage of births attended by skilled personnel would not have been at the desired levels. Guyana is known to have a shortage of experienced nurses and though there are plans in train to arrest this, it will take time. In the meantime, more must be done to inculcate an attitude of caring in more of those already in the profession to ensure there is more humane treatment of not only pregnant mothers and children, but all patients. Of course there is the argument that nurses are poorly remunerated and this is an area that needs to be addressed and with urgency. But at the same time, should caring and the efficient execution of a job one chooses to do be only about and for financial gain?
What the State of the World's Mothers also highlights is that, sadly, the majority of the world's mothers and children live in the countries at the bottom of the Mothers' Index. Though the best health care is available in the top ten countries, women in those countries have fewer babies and can choose to delay the age at which they have their first child. In many war torn countries, there are mothers as young as 12 years old, who had absolutely no choice in the matter. As we celebrate Mother's Day, perhaps we could spare a thought for mothers such as these, while we try to do as much as we can to promote safe motherhood and in so doing move Guyana up on the list.